Hopefully, the Economy Will Thaw Out

Gov. Charlie Baker recently took a rather unusual — some might call it desperate — step in this state’s battle against what Mother Nature has wrought this winter.

Indeed, as yet another huge storm barreled down on the Eastern part of the state the day before St. Valentine’s Day — a huge day and night for restaurants and a host of other businesses — he urged residents to make this year’s holiday Valentine’s Week instead.

That’s right, he made a rather impassioned plea (in the form of an official proclamation) to people who were going to cancel whatever plans they had for that night and stay in — something his own office encouraged them to do — and spend that money another night. Beyond that, he encouraged state residents to find ways to spend money with those small businesses that have been getting clobbered by this brutal winter. And Boston Mayor Marty Walsh did pretty much the same thing.

Like we said, a desperate measure. But desperate times call for those, and in the Bay State, well, things are getting pretty desperate, and unless things change, we’re looking at a repeat of last year.

That’s when people here and across the state were introduced to — and then painfully familiarized with — the phrase ‘polar vortex.’ You remember — several weeks of intense cold that seemed like it would never end.

It was a tough time for everyone, but especially for business owners, as people took ‘hunkering down’ to a new level. Talk to any car dealer, or any retailer, for that matter, and they’ll tell you that business just stopped last winter. Consumers stayed home until the trees started budding, and when they eventually came back out, they weren’t exactly in a spending mood.

Indeed, the economy didn’t really thaw out until the fall, when people finally started spending again. What was supposed to be a great year for the state’s economy turned out to be a good quarter — if that.

Now it’s 2015, and the polar vortex is back with a vengeance, only this time it’s been accompanied by about four feet of snow in the Greater Springfield area and about twice that in Worcester, Boston, Lowell, and Fall River. And with that snow have come a number of lost days for workers and businesses — three Mondays in a row, to be exact — and a significant amount of lost momentum when it comes to a state economy that’s still somewhat fragile.

By most estimates, Massachusetts companies have lost more than $1 billion, and perhaps as much as $2 billion, due to faltering sales and lost productivity, causing the economy to contract by a full percentage point. And to make matters worse, many businesses have incurred significant, and unanticipated, costs from the cleanup of all those storms. While it’s true that some businesses are thriving from all this — travel agents, ski areas, snow-thrower dealerships, and any store that sells snow shovels — and that matters are far worse in the Boston area than they are here, many local businesses are suffering mightily.

It’s probably enough to put a serious dent in all those rosy projections about the state’s economy that were put forth late last fall, when all the arrows were seemingly pointed upward and most of the usual-suspect obstacles to growth — everything from a lack of consumer confidence to high gas prices to a struggling job market — were trending positively.

That’s probably. We saw what a bitterly cold winter can do the economy last year. We can hope that the weather — and spending — warm up, and quickly. Or we can do as the governor suggests and hunker down when the snow is falling but support local businesses when it stops — if it stops.

Valentine’s Week? Maybe it should be Valentine’s Month.

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